For nearly two centuries, New York City’s Chinatown has been home to a quintessentially American story: immigrant workers and their families living shoulder-to-shoulder in low-slung tenements. Workers like Dennis Chung, the owner of Pasteur Grill and Noodles, a Vietnamese pho joint he’s run at the neighborhood’s western edge for 27 years, weathered disasters like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and COVID. Now another symbol of the American condition is taking shape, directly across from Chung’s shop: a vast new jail. At about 300 feet tall, the new structure would be the world's tallest correctional facility. hung says it could be the thing that finally sinks his business. “With the jail on top of the pandemic, it might be over,” he said, the Guardian reports.
City officials and justice reform advocates say the new jail is necessary if they close Rikers Island, the notoriously grim jail that the city council voted to shut down in 2019. That vote said the facility should be replaced by 2027 with four smaller jails throughout the city, including the one in Chinatown. Planners say it will be a more humane institution conveniently located steps from downtown courthouses. The tower will replace a much shorter jail that’s been on the site since the 1980s. Construction is well behind schedule, partially due to years of resistance from a diverse coalition that includes everyone from prison abolitionists to local landlords to, at one point, Mayor Eric Adams, who pledged to oppose the new jail when campaigning. Critics argue it will be an eyesore that could harm some of New York’s most vulnerable immigrants, and that its multibillion-dollar price could be far better spent elsewhere.